DYSTOPIA for solo violin. Duration circa 4 minutes. Composed for and premiered by Hilary Hahn. Available from  PROMETHEAN EDITIONS.


Dystopia, a three and a half minute long "encore" piece for solo violin, was commissioned by and dedicated to violin virtuoso Hilary Hahn. Hidden behind the hyper-virtuosity and relative brevity of this piece is a meditation on the causes of religious intransigence, disenchantment and, ultimately, jihad. The literal meaning of the title (a "terrible place") refers to the current conflict between narrowly defined religious creeds, particularly the conflict between the Moslem world, and the so-called western civilization, or modernity. These two separate worlds are musically depicted as (1) a rather "square" music in the ancient Dorian mode (the Phrygian of the Gregorian modal system) with a microtonally raised flat second degree (B-quarter flat) whose use is widespread in several Islamic musical cultures of the Middle East, North-East Africa and South Asia and (2) the musical universe of equal-temperament tuning used in Western European music from the eighteenth century onwards which significantly compromises modal identity but compensates for this loss by enabling harmonic travel beyond the tonic key. Dystopia begins with the certitudes of the traditional modal world played by the soloist with unshaken conviction. The music then moves into what sounds to the listener like an improvised section against a steady rhythmic bed of left-hand pizzicato. Gradually and imperceptibly, the soloist is drawn into western classicism and modernity: the microtonally raised second degree of the Dorian is incrementally lowered until it reaches a normal B-flat and, consequently, equal temperament, while the previously monophonic and/or heterophonic music gives way to harmonic substance and motion. At first the experience is pleasurable and exhilarating but gradually the soloist realizes that, seen from a certain distance, modernity is a frighteningly accelerating ride to nowhere. At the peak of the acceleration we are confronted with the possibility that modernity may have helped dispense with false certitudes but it has not replaced them with anything of redeeming value, while revealing all along an underlying nihilism at its core. At the moment of this realization—and in a reactionary about face—the soloist re-focuses her/his attention to the original mode and particularly on what sets it apart from western modernity that is the peculiarly tuned second scale degree. In a desperate attempt to hold on to something known and "concrete", the soloist focuses increasingly on the difference rather than the commonality of the two experiences. By increasingly focusing on and ending emphatically with the microtonally altered second degree, which is in variance not only with modernity but also with the spirit and deeper intention of the non-western mode itself (and, by analogy, Islamic tenets), the soloist sets her/himself on a war path with modernity and its postulates. A potential "jihadist" is born, waiting to be recruited and utilized in a dark cause.

It is important for the soloist to interpret measures 91 to the end with a certain degree of restrained theatricality. She/he should convey to the audience the inner struggle suggested by the deliberate choice of the original intonation and the insistence on the B-quarter flat at the very end. Timing, pacing and dynamics should be employed to depict the inner turmoil and the darkness of the final choice.

Premiere performance: May 27, 2012, 2:00 PM. Hilary Hahn, violin. Encore performance after the Prokofiev Violin Concerto with the San Franscisco Symphony. Davies Symphony Hall, San Franscisco, CA.

Last night, I went to a concert at Seoul Arts Center to watch Hilary Hahn playing Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto with Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra. After a wonderful performance, Ms. Hahn played two encore pieces, one of them being your recently composed Dystopia. Listening to the piece, I instantly fell in love. . . It was a sort of music that I felt "strangely attracted". The polyphonic voice progression that ran underneath the melody line made me think of Bach's Sonatas/Partitas. But the complexity that lies within a seemingly simple structure was unbelievably attractive. (Especially the quarter-flat tones, and the resolution of those!) J. H. E. C., Cornell U., NY.

Hilary Hahn played one of your pieces as encore at SFSO matinee, your piece received staring ovation . . . from memory and very very nice . . . I thought it a great encore piece, loved the LH pizz esp with full strummed pizz. It sounded like a million bucks in the excellent Davies Hall acoustic. R. S. Vancouver, BC

“At one point she went back to the mic–where she announced the improvisational nature of the evening–and mentioned she would now do a prepared piece, ‘Dystopia’, by a Greek composer named Hatzis (Whoa! Reading about this song on his website, I never would have guessed he meant all that in a three-minute piece!). She smirks, ‘We’re gonna go acoustic for this’, and reaches down to her boot. It sounded like a gypsy air.” Photographer/blogger Paul Franco. Paul was at the HH&H El Rey gig in Los Angeles on 5/28/12 (Courtesy of his blog Life, 1 Photo at a Time, in the post titled “Hilary Hahn Different”)

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